Breaking Rules with Onnit CEO Aubrey Marcus

Breaking Rules with Onnit CEO Aubrey Marcus

“There’s very little that’s off limits. You can steer me in whatever waters you want.”

I know Aubrey Marcus likes to push the boundaries. When we talked, we had one of the most remarkable, enlightening conversations of my life.

We discussed everything from open relationships and love... to managing ego and psychedelics.

Aubrey’s goal is to empower people to achieve their fullest human potential, and push boundaries to reach insane levels of success.

Here’s what he’s done:

  • Founded Onnit in 2010 and is now doing over $25m in revenue
  • Sole owner of Black Swan Yoga (four time winner of the Best Yoga in Austin)
  • Became friends with Joe Rogan after cold contacting him one day

To see a different side of a successful entrepreneur, check out the podcast below.

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The Relentless Pursuit of Self-Improvement: 8 Lessons from Aubrey Marcus

  1. Learn to break some rules
  2. Stop comparing yourself
  3. Rethink relationships
  4. Embrace experience
  5. The obstacle is the way
  6. Always be learning
  7. Find balance
  8. Have uncomfortable conversations

1. Learn to break some rules

“Rules are very good at keeping non-sentient beings in line.”

Aubrey doesn’t live his life by obeying conventional rules.

When you closely analyze the world’s most successful people, you notice a trend of non-conformity:

  • Einstein had disregard of authority
  • Steve Jobs experimented with psychedelics
  • Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to create Facebook (and then fired me…)

Many successful people are unconventional thinkers. If you want to grow, start breaking some arbitrary rules you set yourself.

Give yourself permission to do things differently.

So how can you teach yourself to start breaking a few rules?

Aubrey’s #1 tip: Start looking at where you've told yourself “no.”

Think of yourself like the character in the most amazing video game you’ve ever played…

You’re in this amazing world, with never-ending places to explore. But you only keep tapping the same buttons.

Are you making a call based on what you “should” do — or what everyone else does?

Think about what you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve told yourself “no” or you “shouldn’t.” For example:

  • Starting your dream business (and breaking the shackles of a 9-5)
  • Asking out your cute neighbor on a date
  • Traveling the world — and working from wherever you want

Whatever it is, do some research. Talk to people who have already pressed those buttons — it won’t hurt to build a better understanding.

Say you’re scared to start your own business:

  1. Read some blogs and listen to podcasts from successful business people
  2. Email a founder you respect and ask them some questions
  3. Start taking baby steps towards making your dream happen

What are the rules you need to break to progress forward?

2. Stop comparing yourself

Time to get personal and talk about the bedroom. Aww yeah. 💃 💗

For many men and women, the bedroom is a high-pressure environment. It’s easy to get mindfucked by expectations.

Even successful CEOs feel this. With three older brothers, Aubrey grew up hearing plenty of tales about sex and sexual performance.

Comparing the crazy tales he heard from his brothers to his reality made it hard for Aubrey to fully enjoy his early sexual experiences.

Thinking about what he was supposed to do or how he was supposed to perform took the enjoyment out of the moment.

“Sex isn't fun when you're in your head. It's much better when you're in your body.”

Live in the moment. Don’t worry so much about what you’re supposed to be doing or what others expect of you.

If you use Facebook, I call this “comparing your rough cut to someone else’s highlight reel.”

ALL we see on social media is how great everyone’s life is:

  • “Not to brag, but I FINALLY got my dream job paying me six figures!!! OMG!!!”
  • “Just a casual shot of me at the beach in Hawaii, lol”
  • “Small thing I wanted to share: Finally got engaged!!!”

Social media can make you feel like shit because you’re comparing yourself so much. I ran into the same issues (this is why I removed social apps from my iPhone).

When you compare yourself, you do what you think you should do… instead of what you’re actually good at.

Here’s a hint: There will always be people better than you at a lot of stuff:

  • Maybe your brother always has better grades than you
  • Maybe your best friend earns 5x your salary
  • Maybe you’re worried about not living up to your partner’s ex

Stop giving a flying f about those things. You don’t have to be perfect.

In fact, no one’s perfect.

We all screw up and we're all going to make mistakes.

Once you recognize that fact, you can learn to love yourself.

“If you don't love yourself then you won't feel like you deserve all of the things that you're trying to manifest. Self-love is a massive cornerstone and we all have to realize that none of us are perfect.”

There’s no point constantly beating yourself down about not being good enough or failing here and there.

I’m the same way:

But once you realize everyone fucks up, you start make meaningful progress towards your goal.

Getting fired from Facebook didn’t stop me from growing an 8-figure business.

Your mistakes won’t stop you either.

Be the best version of you, not a half-assed impression of someone else.

In any situation, it can be easy to look at others and feel jealous of their attributes. That’s not a healthy way to move through life.

There will always be someone bigger, stronger, richer than you. But no-one else has the same combination of attributes as you.

Celebrate and embrace your uniqueness.

3. Rethink relationships

As we grow up, we’re told a story about love. You know, “boy meets girl”, “boy and girl get married,” “happily ever after.” All that kind of stuff.

Aubrey looks at love a little differently:

“Love isn't possessing or owning somebody, love is hoping that person can experience the most that they possibly can out of life.”

To be truly happy in a relationship, you need to remove the priority of yourself.

In other words, be SELFLESS.

Think about what this means in other areas of your life, too.

When you email a founder are you expecting them to help you? Are you giving them “free advice” only because you want them to help you back?

Challenge yourself this week to do something without any expectations:

  • Send an email to your customers just saying “thanks” for buying your product
  • Do something nice for someone and don’t brag about it on Facebook
  • Cold contact someone you respect and give them something valuable

Here’s a word-for-word email script you can send to someone you respect without expectations.

Subject: Really admire your work

Hey [NAME],

Just want to say I really admire what you’ve been doing. Read your blog post on [THING] recently… LOVED IT!

One thing I think you could make it even better is [SUGGESTION]. To help, I put together a quick one-page Google Doc with the idea flushed out. You can just copy-and-paste.

Btw, no need to respond. Just wanted to help you out. 🙂

Keep creating amazing stuff,

[YOUR NAME]

Rethink your romantic and platonic relationships, and remove the expectations and selfishness. See what happens, and let me know in the comments.

4. Embrace experience

There’s no substitute for experience.

Whether you’re trying to grow your business to the next level, become friends with a VIP, or get better at talking to your crush, you can’t beat first hand experience.

You won’t become successful without trying.

And it starts with learning what to try.

Whether your goal is to become a better romantic partner, or a better entrepreneur, put yourself in situations to gain experience:

  • Learn how to be an entrepreneur by cold emailing people you admire
  • To get healthier, try going a week without bread and see how you feel
  • If you want to start a business, do it. Come up with an idea and start selling today

You won’t move forward by reading or thinking about your goal and waiting for the world to reward you. Educate yourself, then TAKE ACTION.

One of my favorite ways to learn about which action to take is to find a mentor or group of friends who can push me.

By the way, you don’t need to be “famous” to find friends or mentors. There are three simple steps you get started with today:

  1. Go to LinkedIn
  2. Find people in or outside your network you admire
  3. Email them asking if they want to get together to talk shop
  4. Start your own “mastermind”

Or, you can search for meetups around your area.

Meeting people with experience will give you ideas on what to try yourself.

5. The obstacle is the way

My friend Ryan Holiday uses the phrase “the obstacle is the way” to describe overcoming adversity to find success.

Pushing past adversity is one of the BEST ways to find success.

Aubrey and his fiancée, Whitney, have pushed past adversity in their own lives, too. In a society that’s mainly monogamous, they’re fully committed to an open partnership.

“We understand we have appetites of varied sources, and you can have a favorite restaurant, but still want to eat somewhere else. But with sex, for some reason we've been told this story and internalized the story that one supplier is perfectly all you need.”

For both Aubrey and Whitney, this was a real struggle to adapt. But after two-and-a-half years of a “hellish state of ego re-evaluation,” he realized he could let go of expectations:

“We’re programmed to say, ‘if your partner wants somebody else that means that you're deficient.’ Your ego feels really threatened and challenged the moment that your partner has interests let alone acts upon that interest with somebody else.”

The two-and-a-half-year struggle Aubrey and Whitney went through to be fully adjusted and happy in the openness of their relationship actually DEEPENED their bond and connection.

The thing you think is a threat is actually an opportunity.

The most important thing is how you think about every obstacle in your life.

Maybe your 9-5 feels like an obstacle that’s stopping you from starting your own business. But, if you use your job to gain experience and save some money to cover starting up, it could actually be the thing that enables you to do so.

6. Always be learning

Aubrey is constantly trying to learn.

He sees himself as Bladesmith who’s made a really awesome sword. He keeps hammering it, taking it to the fire, and making it sharper.

The sword will never be perfect, but he’s trying to correct each defect as it arises.

This process of taking the sword to the fire can be very painful and challenging, but it’s worth it because each time the sword is repaired becomes a little stronger.

Improving is essential for success.

The world moves fast, and you’re left behind if you become an arrogant know-it-all.

Personally, I’m trying to push myself here, too. Recently I’ve sharpening my Hebrew language sword through Hebrew lessons.

I even put time aside in my calendar to ensure I never miss a lesson:

My calendar. This is how I do my own time management, kiddos!

It can be super difficult to be self-critical and look inside yourself for areas to improve. Try writing down 5 weakness you want to address in yourself and set aside time to work on them.

Struggling to come up with 5? Email your friends and colleagues and ask for their honest, open thoughts.

Here’s a script you can copy-and-paste:

Subject: Favor por favor

What’s the #1 BIGGEST thing you think I could challenge myself to do better this year?

You = awesome.

[YOUR NAME]

If you’re looking for more ways to improve and learn, I’ve got you covered:

7. Find balance

“Make sure you're not burning the house down to bake a loaf of bread.”

It can be hard to maintain balance in life.

How many times have you started a healthy diet only to binge 10x worse than you normally would over the weekend?

Sometimes we swing so far to the left, we feel the only way to get back on track is to swing all the back to the right.

You need to find balance.

This applies to any area of life.

  • You could work 18 hours a day, but your relationships will suffer
  • Maybe you’re lifting super heavy weights 6x per week, but then realize you can’t even run a mile anymore
  • You’re jumping from idea to idea in your business — with no execution

You also need to find the same balance between selfishness and selflessness.

How can you help yourself and the world to the maximum capacity? How can you find the SUCCESS you want?

For example, I put all of this content out for free. It takes me hours and hours every week to produce, I spend money flying to Cali and Vegas to interview people because I want to help you.

Is that totally selfless? Not really. Some of you will go sign up for Sumo after reading my content, or join my mailing list, and I reap some benefit from that too.

Finding the balance between selflessness + selfishness = success.

You have to have balance in your business, too.

You don’t want to spend all your time creating content or building your product and then zero time promoting it.

Everything you need to do should in sync across all areas of your business:

  • You want to launch a new feature = you also need a marketing plan
  • You’re hiring a new customer service team member = you need a standard operating procedure to onboard them
  • You’re launching a podcast = you need to have enough time to edit your recordings

One of the BIGGEST mistakes most people make in business is they create too much time creating, and not enough time promoting.

Make sure to promote your content.

Here’s an example promotion list from my recent guest post from my friend Chris: “Peek inside Intercom’s Multi-million Dollar SaaS Growth Strategy.”

8. Have uncomfortable conversations

A lot of times, we skirt around subjects that feel a little taboo.

Things like:

  • “The birds and the bees”
  • Uncomfortable conversations with friends and loved ones
  • Mental health

I know, I know. It’s hard to talk about these things. But we shouldn’t avoid a subject because it’s a little uncomfortable to talk about.

Note to parents out there... your children are watching porn (probably a lot). So wouldn’t it be better to educate them properly about sex than ignore the subject completely because it could be awkward?

Aubrey had to adjust to conversations about sex around his close family due to his involvement in his stepdad’s Fleshlight business.

But soon he realized there was nothing awkward about these conversations.

The perceived awkwardness was far worse than the reality. It wasn’t long before everybody felt totally normal having these conversations in a professional manner.

The more you talk about something, the more comfortable you become with that subject and then you actually get explore deeper topics.

Listen to more epic lessons from Onnit CEO and founder Aubrey Marcus below.

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12 responses to “Breaking Rules with Onnit CEO Aubrey Marcus”

Robbie
June 21, 2017 at 7:52 am

Powerful episode, Noah. Thank you for sharing

Reply
Alex magana
June 20, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Amazing read I have been wanting to start my own electric company hopefully I can one day I still have learning to do before I take the dive but I love the encouragement and advice thanks

Reply
Dillon
June 20, 2017 at 9:43 am

Great content!

I love the approach of addressing the issues and targeting potential solutions while giving examples versus the popular method of throwing out a few motivational pieces and calling it good. Respect to both of you guys for being so open.

Reply
Lee
June 16, 2017 at 7:35 am

This episode is so much fucking gold. It's going to take some repetition to really digest all of the potentially life-altering nuggets Aubrey dropped throughout. Follow-up questions were on point too Noah; you're getting better at this interview shit. Thanks for sharing this.

Reply
Eduardo García from Mexico
June 15, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Good posts

Reply
Marissa
June 15, 2017 at 3:18 am

Hi Noah,
I loved this article. Thanks for putting so much time and effort into your work! I have a question about promoting your articles: I work at a company with a blog and we've tried to post our articles on several FB groups and LinkedIn groups but the posts get deleted because they feel it's us advertising our product (while the posts make slight references to our service, the articles themselves have solid content that would interest the group). Do you have any recommendations on how to promote content without getting flagged as an advertiser? Thanks again.

Reply
Hugh
June 15, 2017 at 1:40 am

Many great articles over th years Noah .. this may be the best yet 🙂

Reply
Matt Stone
June 14, 2017 at 8:31 pm

Dude, your calendar is fucking scary bro! I had an anxiety attack just looking at it!

Reply
Nick Pinkerton
June 14, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Noah,
Luv ya work!
Keep it comin' man!

Reply
dickens kobura
June 14, 2017 at 10:05 am

hey thanks noah kagan for the free advice appreciate it

Reply
bryan forsythe
June 14, 2017 at 7:39 am

Subject: Really admire your work

Hey [Noah Kagan],

Just want to say I really admire what you’ve been doing. Continue to read your blog posts on [being super productive/successful/crazy-awesome] and… LOVE IT!

One thing I think you could make it even better is [show your process, like I scoured your calendar pic, saying to myself, now this is what a successful man is doing. Why am I not doing this? ].

Btw, no need to respond. Just wanted to help you out.

Keep creating amazing stuff,

[Bryan Forsythe]

Reply
7 Mile Marketing
June 14, 2017 at 6:06 am

I agree with all the things that Aubrey said in this article, Noah. Breaking the rules does not always mean you will be unsuccessful. It means you don't stick to the stereotypes and you are making your own way on how to achieve what you wanna get. Like the people you used as examples, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other successful men who once failed but did not give up and instead make unique ways to be known all over the world. I learned that let these people be our inspiration. Actually, I learned a lot from this article. I did not regret giving 15 minutes of my time with this one.

Reply